The word from Sundance

“I had a dream that you grew a garden on a trampoline and I was so grateful I invented peanut butter.”

— Noel (Zooey Deschanel) in All the Real Girls

A year ago, David Gordon Green brought his cast and crew to Marshall for a month-long film shoot. “We knew we wanted to shoot in the Asheville area,” he said in a recent interview. “Marshall was a time capsule, a town that hadn’t changed since 1959.”

Last month, after a year spent editing the film, Green unveiled All the Real Girls to a capacity crowd at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Geoffrey Gilmore, the festival’s director, gave Green a lavish introduction.

“We talk a lot here about ‘independent vision,'” Gilmore said to those assembled. “But I think it’s safe to say that David … Gordon … Green … has a vision!”

With that, an impossibly callow-looking auteur bounded onto the stage to hearty cheers.

Despite Green’s rapidly elevating profile, he doesn’t look much like a hipster filmmaker. Eschewing designer clothes and shades, he wears ratty T-shirts and zippered sweat jackets and, with the heavily loaded backpack he sometimes carries, he appears more like a disheveled college student than a 27-year-old filmmaker who’s emerging as one of America’s more interesting cinematic artists.

Still, it was a moment of triumph, and also perhaps one of vindication: Three years ago, Sundance rejected George Washington, Green’s now-acclaimed debut, which was shot in the Winston-Salem area.

After Green acknowledged the cheers from the Park City stage, the lights went down and the movie began.

That ’70s feel

All the Real Girls is a deceptively simple tale. Paul (played by Paul Schneider), a notorious small-town Lothario, falls madly in love for the first time. There’s a small catch, however: Noel (Zooey Deschanel), the object of his affections, is the 18-year-old younger sister of his best friend, Tip, who doesn’t want Paul anywhere near his virginal sibling.

Despite the film’s simplicity, it manages to defy expectations. Instead of pushing the usual teen-movie plot contrivances, All the Real Girls focuses on atmosphere and emotion. It’s a story of being young, passionate and utterly lost. The two central characters are undefined as adults — and this lack of definition haunts their attempts to be in love with each other.

Filled with gorgeous photography and a surprising amount of daffy humor, All the Real Girls is a movie experience quite unlike any you may have had in a theater recently. In fact, you’d have to go back a couple of decades to find films that resemble this one in its loose, free-associative storytelling.

This is no accident: Green is a huge fan of the celebrated American films of the 1970s, a time when now-dormant filmmakers like Hal Ashby, Terence Malick and Dennis Hopper were pushing the narrative envelope, and contemporary masters like Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg and Altman were making their earliest (and to many fans, their best) movies.

“The period from 1968 to 1980 in American films is where the influence is, the foundation of my interest in making films,” said Green, sitting in the atrium of the Park City Marriott two days after the premiere. “Camerawork and editing, and acting and storytelling — that’s when they had it going on for a long time.”

Green, a Texas native, received his movie education at North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, thanks in large measure to the institution’s vast archive of prints.

“I worked in the archive and helped them organize it,” Green recalls. “It turned me on to films that I never would have known about, and there were 35 mm prints of films that I’d been in love with since I was a kid, but I’d only seen the edited-for-TV versions.”

After film school, Green moved to Los Angeles to work for producers and studios, in order to better understand the business side of the industry. He discovered what many aspiring filmmakers have before him: Profits take precedence over art in Hollywood. Green returned to North Carolina both wiser and savvier.

George Washington was a reaction to a lot of my frustration with the ways movies are made,” he says.

Thanks to the critical reception for that film, Green was able to find backing from Sony Pictures Classics for his sophomore effort. Green and Paul Schneider had been batting around the premise for All the Real Girls since 1997. At the time, the two graduating NCSA seniors wanted to make a movie about this crucial period of transition in their lives.

“There aren’t a lot of examples of films that capture the insecurities, the awkwardness and the magical pleasures of young relationships,” Green observes, citing older films such as Splendor in the Grass, The Last Picture Show and Say Anything as favorites of his that mine such territory.

Although he admires the work of director Terence Malick (Badlands, The Thin Red Line), Green’s direction often resembles that of Steven Spielberg in its use of children, its extensive pop literacy and its penchant for evoking nostalgia and innocence. There’s a time-warp quality to his work; Green’s films seem to be set in the South, but it’s a gauzy, aestheticized world.

In Marshall, Green found a community that suited his needs.

“I was looking for a town that had a timeless quality to it, that wasn’t full of Starbucks and Wal-Marts and all that,” he recalls. “Marshall was a very inviting community.”

Plus, it was set on a river, which the story required.

Green also filled out his cast with local actors.

“I really like to blend nonprofessional actors, unknown actors and professionals with a lot of experience,” he reveals. “Everyone’s got something to offer. If you structure it right, it can be a very rewarding environment.”

Risky business

Perhaps the greatest risk Green took was casting Schneider, his close friend and collaborator from NCSA, in the film’s lead role. Schneider, an Asheville native, is a virtually unknown performer, having only begun acting on a lark during film school (where his concentration was in editing), and then playing a supporting role in George Washington.

It’s safe to assume that Sony wanted a bigger name in the role, to protect the studio’s investment. However, Green points out that All the Real Girls’ $1 million budget is miniscule in the world of feature filmmaking.

“I’d rather have more freedom at that level,” he ventures, “rather than have creative boundaries [and a larger budget].”

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